Oman

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Sultanate of Oman
سلطنة عُمان
Salṭanat ʻUmān
Flag National emblem
Anthem: Nashid as-Salaam as-Sultani
National anthem of Oman
Capital
and largest city
Muscat
23°36′N 58°33′E / 23.600°N 58.550°E / 23.600; 58.550
Official languages Arabic
Demonym Omani
Government Unitary Islamic absolute monarchy
 -  Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said
 -  Deputy Prime Minister Fahd bin Mahmoud al Said[1]
Legislature Parliament
 -  Upper house Council of State (Majlis al-Dawla)
 -  Lower house Consultative Assembly (Majlis al-Shura)
Establishment
 -  The Azd tribe migration Late 2nd century 
 -  Imamate established[2] 751 
Area
 -  Total 309,501 km2 (70th)
119,498 sq mi
 -  Water (%) negligible
Population
 -  2013 estimate 3,869,873[3]
 -  2010 census 2,773,479[4]
 -  Density 9.2/km2 (220th)
23.8/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2012 estimate
 -  Total $90.055 billion[5]
 -  Per capita $29,166[5]
GDP (nominal) 2012 estimate
 -  Total $76.464 billion[5]
 -  Per capita $24,764[5]
HDI (2013) Increase 0.731[6]
high · 85 th
Currency Rial (OMR)
Time zone GST (UTC+4)
 -  Summer (DST)  (UTC+4)
Drives on the right
Calling code +968
ISO 3166 code OM
Internet TLD .om, عمان.

Oman (Listeni/ˈmɑːn/ oh-MAAN; Arabic: عمانʻUmān), officially called the Sultanate of Oman (Arabic: سلطنة عُمانSalṭanat ʻUmān), is an Arab state in southwest Asia on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It has a strategically important position at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. It is bordered by the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the southwest and also shares marine borders with Iran and Pakistan. The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea on the southeast and the Gulf of Oman on the northeast. The Madha and Musandam exclaves are surrounded by the UAE on their land borders, with the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman forming Musandam's coastal boundaries.

From the 17th century, Oman had its own empire, and vied with Portugal and Britain for influence in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. At its peak in the 19th century, Omani influence or control extended across the Strait of Hormuz to Iran, and modern-day Pakistan, and as far south as Zanzibar (present-day Tanzania).[7] As its power declined in the 20th century, the sultanate came under heavy influence from the United Kingdom, though Oman was never formally part of the British Empire, or a British protectorate. Oman's official religion is Ibadi Islam.

Omani people are ethnically diverse,[8] the native Omani population consists of many different ethnic groups, including Arabs, ethnic Balochis, Swahilis, ethnic Lurs (who speak Kumzari), Hindus and Mehri people. The largest non-Arab Omani community are Balochi people, who are an Iranian people following the Sunni faith.[9] At least 12 different languages are native to Omani citizens.[10] Oman is an absolute monarchy in which the Sultan of Oman exercises ultimate authority, but its parliament has some legislative and oversight powers.[11] Oman is a member of Gulf Cooperation Council, United Nations, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Arab League. It has long standing military and political ties with the United Kingdom and the United States.[12]

Oman, compared to its neighbors, has modest oil reserves ranking at 25th globally,[13][14] nonetheless in 2010 UNDP ranked Oman as the most improved nation during the preceding 40 years globally. Additionally, Oman is categorized as a high income economy and the 45th most peaceful country in the world.[15][16]

History[edit]

Prehistory[edit]

At Aybut Al Auwal in the Dhofar region of Oman a site was discovered in 2011 containing more than 100 surface scatters of stone tools belonging to a regionally specific African lithic industry - the late Nubian Complex - known previously only from the northeast and Horn of Africa. Two optically stimulated luminescence age estimates place the Arabian Nubian Complex at 106,000 years old. This supports the proposition that early human populations moved from Africa into Arabia during the Late Pleistocene.[17]

Dereaze, located in the city of Ibri, is the oldest known human settlement in the area, dating back as many as 8,000 years to the late Stone Age.[18] Archaeological remains have been discovered here from the Stone Age and the Bronze Age; findings have included stone implements, animal bones, shells and fire hearths, with the later dating back to 7615 BC as the oldest signs of human settlement in the area. Other discoveries include hand-molded pottery bearing distinguishing pre-Bronze Age marks, heavy flint implements, pointed tools and scrapers.

On a mountain rock-face in the same district, animal drawings have been discovered. Similar drawings have also been found in the Wadi Sahtan and Wadi Bani Kharus areas of Rustaq, consisting of human figures carrying weapons and being confronted by wild animals. Siwan in Haima is another Stone Age location and some of the archaeologists have found arrowheads, knives, chisels and circular stones which may have been used to hunt animals.

Ancient history[edit]

A grave at Al Ayn, Oman, a World Heritage site.
Wadi Shab, Oman, 2004

Sumerian tablets refer to a country called Magan[19][20] or Makan,[21][22] a name believed to refer to Oman's ancient copper mines. Mazoon, another name used for the region, is derived from the word muzn, which means heavy clouds which carry abundant water. The present-day name of the country, Oman, is believed to originate from the Arab tribes who migrated to its territory from the Uman region of Yemen;[when?] many such tribes settled in Oman, making a living by fishing, herding or stock breeding, and many present day Omani families are able to trace their ancestral roots to other parts of Arabia.

From the 6th century BC to the arrival of Islam in the 7th century AD, Oman was controlled and/or influenced by three Persian dynasties, the Achaemenids, Parthians and Sassanids. A few scholars believe that in the 6th century BC, the Achaemenids exerted a strong degree of control over the Omani peninsula, most likely ruling from a coastal center such as Sohar. Central Oman has its own indigenous so-called Late Iron Age cultural assemblage Samad al-Shan. By about 250 BC, the Parthian dynasty had brought the Persian Gulf under their control and extended their influence as far as Oman, establishing garrisons in Oman to help control the trade routes in the Persian Gulf. In the 3rd century AD, the Sassanids succeeded the Parthians and held the area until the rise of Islam four centuries later.[23]

Arrival of Islam[edit]

Omanis were among the first people to come in contact with and accept Islam.[24] The conversion of the Omanis is usually ascribed to Amr ibn al-As, who was sent by Muhammad around 630 AD to invite Jayfar and 'Abd, the joint rulers of Oman at that time, to accept the faith. In submitting to Islam, Oman became an Ibadhi state, ruled by an elected leader, the Imam.

During the early years of the Islamic mission, Oman played a major role in the Wars of Apostasy that occurred after the death of Muhammad, and also took part in the great Islamic conquests by land and sea in Iraq, Persia(Iran) and beyond. Oman's most prominent role in this respect was through its extensive trading and seafaring activities in the African Great Lakes region and the Far East, particularly during the 19th century, when it helped introduce Islam to the Swahili Coast, certain areas of Central Africa, India, Southeast Asia and China. After its submission to Islam, Oman was ruled by Umayyads between 661–750, Abbasids between 750–931, 932–933 and 934–967, Qarmatians between 931–932 and 933–934, Buyids between 967–1053, and the Seljuks of Kirman between 1053–1154.

Portuguese colonization[edit]

A decade following Vasco da Gama's successful voyage around the Cape of Good Hope and to India in 1497-98, the Portuguese explorers arrived in Oman and occupied Muscat for a 143-year period, between 1507 and 1650, where their fortress still remains. In need of an outpost to protect their sea lanes, the Portuguese built up and fortified the city, where remnants of their colonial architectural style still remain. An Ottoman fleet captured Muscat in 1552, during the fight for control over the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.[25] The Ottoman Turks captured Muscat from the Portuguese again between 1581-88.

Rebellious tribes eventually drove out the Portuguese, but they were pushed out themselves about a century later, in 1741, by the leader of a Yemeni tribe leading a massive army from various allied tribes, beginning the current line of ruling sultans. Excepting a brief Persian invasion in the late 1740s, Oman has been self-governing ever since.

No foreign power controlled the entirety of what is now Oman. The majority of the territory was always ruled by tribes, with colonial control contained to a few strategic port cities. Oman, as it exists now was never under the total sway of European colonization.

18th and 19th centuries[edit]

The Sultan's Palace in Zanzibar, which was once Oman's capital and residence of its Sultans.

In the 1690s, Saif bin Sultan, the Imam of Oman, pressed down the Swahili Coast. A major obstacle to his progress was Fort Jesus, housing the garrison of a Portuguese settlement at Mombasa. After a two-year siege, the fort fell to bin Sultan in 1698. Thereafter the Omanis easily ejected the Portuguese from Zanzibar and from all other coastal regions north of Mozambique, with the help of the Somali Ajuran Sultanate. The Persians invaded Oman in 1737. They were driven out in 1749 when the Al Said dynasty came to power. They continue to rule to this day.

Zanzibar was a valuable property as the main slave market of the Swahili Coast, and became an increasingly important part of the Omani empire, a fact reflected by the decision of the 19th century Sultan of Oman, Sa'id ibn Sultan, to make it his main place of residence in 1837. Sa'id built impressive palaces and gardens in Zanzibar. Rivalry between his two sons was resolved, with the help of forceful British diplomacy, when one of them, Majid, succeeded to Zanzibar and to the many regions claimed by the family on the Swahili Coast. The other son, Thuwaini, inherited Muscat and Oman.

Zanzibar influences in the Comoros archipelago in the Indian Ocean led indirectly to Omani influences in Comorian culture from the clothing, to the wedding ceremonies.

In 1783, Oman's Saiad Sultan, defeated ruler of Muscat, was granted sovereignty over Gwadar, a coastal city located in the Makran region of what is now the far southwestern corner of Pakistan, near the present-day border of Iran and at the mouth of the Gulf of Oman.[note 1][26] After regaining control of Muscat, this sovereignty was continued (via an appointed wali, "governor") and close relations were maintained with the Emirs of Sindh. Another point of view is that in the middle of the 18th century, Mir Nasir Khan captured Gwadar and its surrounding areas after defeating the Gichkis tribes and included it in the Kalat Khanate. However, realizing that maintaining control of the area will be difficult without the support of the Gichkis, Mir Nasir entered into an agreement with the local Gichki Chief, which allowed the Gichkis to maintain administrative control of the area, in return for furnishing half the collected revenues to Kalat, this arrangement continued till 1783. When Saiad Sultan fell out with his brother, the ruler of Muscat, and asked for help, Mir Nasir Khan handed over Gwadar, as part of his share of revenues, to Saiad Sultan for his maintenance with the understanding that the area be returned to Kalat, when Saiad Sultan acquires the throne. Saiad Sultan ascended to the throne of Muscat in 1797 but never returned Gwadar enclave to Kalat. The ensuing struggle between the heirs of the Sultan and Khan of Kalat, for possession of Gwadar, allowed the British to intervene. The British after extracting concessions from the Sultan for the use of the area facilitated Muscat to retain Gwadar. Later on, the British tried to twist the history by claiming that the area was permanently gifted to the Sultan by Mir Nasir, however, local accounts and the declassified documents of that time refute this claim.[27]

The Hajar Mountains, of which the Jebel Akhdar is a part, separate the country into two distinct regions: the interior, known as Oman, and the coastal area dominated by the capital, Muscat.[28] In 1913, control of the country split. The interior was ruled by Ibadite imams and the coastal areas by the sultan. Under the terms of the British-brokered Treaty of Seeb of 1920, the sultan recognised the autonomy of the interior. The Sultan of Muscat would be responsible for the external affairs of Oman.[29]

Reign of Sultan Said[edit]

The rule of Sultan Said bin Taimur was characterised by a feudal and isolationist approach.

Imam Ghalib Al Hinai was the elected Imam of the Imamate of Oman in May 1954.[30] Relations between the Sultan of Muscat, Said bin Taimur, and Imam Ghalib were ruptured over a dispute concerning the right to grant oil concessions. A subsidiary of the Iraq Petroleum Company was intensely interested in some promising geological formations near Fahud.[28] Under the terms of the 1920 treaty of Seeb, the Sultan claimed all dealings with the oil company as his prerogative. The Imam, on the other hand, claimed that since the oil was in his territory, anything dealing with it was an internal matter.[28]

In December 1955, Sultan Said bin Taimur sent troops of the Muscat and Oman Field Force to occupy the main centres in Oman, including Nizwa, the capital of the Imamate of Oman, and Ibri.[29] Imam Ghalib bin Ali along with his younger brother Talib bin Ali Al Hinai, led the Imamate of Oman in the Jebel Akhdar War against Sultan Said bin Taimur's attack on his lands. In July 1957, the Sultan's forces were withdrawing, but they were repeatedly ambushed, sustaining heavy casualties.[29] Sultan Said bin Taimur, however, with the intervention of infantry (two companies of the Cameronians) and armoured car detachments from the British Army and aircraft of the RAF was able to suppress the rebellion.[31] Talib's forces retreated to the inaccessible Jebel Akhdar.[31]

Colonel David Smiley, who had been seconded to organize the Sultan's Armed Forces, managed to isolate the mountain in autumn 1958 and found a route to the plateau from Wadi Bani Kharu.[32] On 27 January 1959, they occupied the mountain in a surprise operation.[32] Ghalib, Talib and Sulaiman managed to escape to Saudi Arabia, where the imamate's cause was promoted until the 1970s.[32] The Treaty of Seeb was terminated and the autonomous Imamate of Oman abolished giving way to the present day Sultanate.[citation needed]

In 1955, Makran acceded to Pakistan and was made a district – although Gwadar, at the time, was not included in Makran. On 8 September 1958, Pakistan purchased the Gwadar enclave from Oman for $3 million.[note 2][33] Gwadar then became a tehsil in the Makran district.

Oil reserves were discovered in 1964 and extraction began in 1967. In the Dhofar Rebellion, which began in 1965, leftist forces were pitted against government troops. As the rebellion threatened to overthrow the Sultan's rule in Dhofar, Sultan Said bin Taimur was deposed in a bloodless coup (1970) by his son Qaboos bin Said, who expanded Sultan of Oman's Armed Forces, modernised the state's administration and introduced social reforms. The uprising was finally put down in 1975 with the help of forces from Iran, Jordan, Pakistan and the British Royal Air Force and Special Air Service.

Reign of Sultan Qaboos[edit]

After deposing his father in 1970, Sultan Qaboos opened up the country, embarked on economic reforms and followed a policy of modernisation by spending on health, education and welfare.[34] In 1981 Oman became a founding member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

It was some time before political reforms were introduced. Historically, voters had been chosen from among tribal leaders, intellectuals and businessmen. However, in 1997 Sultan Qaboos decreed that women could vote for, and stand for election to, the Majlis al-Shura, the Consultative Assembly of Oman. Two women were duly elected to the body.

In 2002, voting rights were extended to all citizens over the age of 21. The first elections to the Consultative Assembly in which all citizens over the age of 21 could vote, were held in 2003. In 2004, the Sultan appointed Oman's first female minister with portfolio.

There was, however, little change to the actual political make-up of the government and the Sultan continued to rule by decree. Nearly 100 suspected Islamists were arrested in 2005 and 31 people were convicted of trying to overthrow the government. They were, however, pardoned in June.[13]

Unrest has been inspired by the Arab Spring groundswell of political dissent in the region. Protests began in January 2011, with protestors demanding political reforms and jobs. They were dispersed by riot police in February 2011. Sultan Qaboos reacted by promising jobs and benefits. In October 2011, elections were held to the Consultative Assembly, for which Sultan Qaboos promised greater powers. The following year, the government began a crackdown on Internet criticism. In September 2012, trials began of 'activists' accused of posting "abusive and provocative" criticism of the government online. Six were given jail terms of 12–18 months and fines of around $2,500 each.[35]

Geography[edit]

Coast of Sur, Oman.

Oman lies between latitudes 16° and 28° N, and longitudes 52° and 60° E.

A vast gravel desert plain covers most of central Oman, with mountain ranges along the north (Al Hajar Mountains) and southeast coast, where the country's main cities are also located: the capital city Muscat, Sohar and Sur in the north, and Salalah in the south. Oman's climate is hot and dry in the interior and humid along the coast. During past epochs Oman was covered by ocean, witnessed by the large numbers of fossilized shells existing in areas of the desert away from the modern coastline.

Omani desert landscape.

The peninsula of Musandam (Musandem) exclave, which has a strategic location on the Strait of Hormuz, is separated from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates.[36] The series of small towns known collectively as Dibba are the gateway to the Musandam peninsula on land and the fishing villages of Musandam by sea, with boats available for hire at Khasab for trips into the Musandam peninsula by sea.

Oman's other exclave, inside UAE territory, known as Madha, located halfway between the Musandam Peninsula and the main body of Oman,[36] is part of the Musandam governorate, covering approximately 75 km2 (29 sq mi). Madha's boundary was settled in 1969, with the north-east corner of Madha barely 10 m (32.8 ft) from the Fujairah road. Within the Madha exclave is a UAE enclave called Nahwa, belonging to the Emirate of Sharjah, situated about 8 km (5 mi) along a dirt track west of the town of New Madha, consisting of about forty houses with a clinic and telephone exchange.[37]

The central desert of Oman is an important source of meteorites for scientific analysis.[38]

Climate[edit]

Like the rest of the Persian Gulf, Oman generally has a hot climate and receives little rainfall in many parts. Annual rainfall in Muscat averages 100 mm (3.9 in), falling mostly in January. The Dhofar Mountains area has a tropical like climate and receives seasonal rainfall (from late June to late September) as a result of the monsoon winds from the Indian Ocean saturated with cool moisture and heavy fog.[39] The mountain areas receive more plentiful rainfall, and annual rainfall on the higher parts of the Jabal Akhdar probably exceeds 400 mm (15.7 in).[40] Temperatures in the mountainous areas results in snow cover, once every few years.[41] Some parts of the coast, particularly near the island of Masirah, sometimes receive no rain at all within the course of a year. The climate generally is very hot, with temperatures reaching around 50 °C (122.0 °F) (peak) in the hot season, from May to September.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Nakhal palm tree farms in Oman's Batina Region.

Desert shrub and desert grass, common to southern Arabia, are found, but vegetation is sparse in the interior plateau, which is largely gravel desert.

The greater monsoon rainfall in Dhofar and the mountains makes the growth there more luxuriant during summer; coconut palms grow plentifully in the coastal plains of Dhofar and frankincense is produced in the hills, with abundant oleander and varieties of acacia.

The Al Hajar Mountains are a distinct ecoregion, the highest points in eastern Arabia with wildlife including the Arabian tahr.

Indigenous mammals include the leopard, hyena, fox, wolf, hare, oryx, and ibex. Birds include the vulture, eagle, stork, bustard, Arabian partridge, bee eater, falcon, and sunbird. In 2001, Oman had nine endangered species of mammals and five endangered types of birds[citation needed] and nineteen threatened plant species. Decrees have been passed to protect endangered species, including the Arabian leopard, Arabian Oryx, Mountain gazelle, Goitered Gazelle, Arabian tahr, Green sea turtle, Hawksbill Turtle and Olive ridley turtle. However, the Oman Arabian Oryx sanctuary is the first site ever to be deleted from UNESCO's World Heritage List due to the government's decision to reduce the site to 10% of its former size so that the remainder could be opened to oil prospectors.[42]

Environment[edit]

Drought and limited rainfall contribute to shortages in the nation's water supply, so maintaining an adequate supply of water for agricultural and domestic use is one of Oman's most pressing environmental problems, with limited renewable water resources; 94% of available water is used in farming and 2% for industrial activity, with the majority sourced from fossil water in the desert areas and spring water in hills and mountains. Drinking water is available throughout the country, either piped or delivered.

The soil in coastal plains, such as Salalah, have shown increased levels of salinity, due to over exploitation of ground water and encroachment by seawater in the water table. Pollution of beaches and other coastal areas by oil tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman is also a persistent risk.[43]

Politics[edit]

The Sultan's Al Alam Palace in Old Muscat.

Oman is an absolute monarchy[44] in which all legislative, executive, and judiciary power ultimately rests in the hands of the hereditary sultan, and in which the system of laws is based firmly on Islamic sharia. Freedom House has routinely rated the country "Not Free".[45]

The Omani legislature is the bicameral Council of Oman, consisting of an upper chamber, the Council of State (Majlis ad-Dawlah) and a lower chamber, the Consultative Council (Majlis ash-Shoura).[46] Political parties are banned.[47] The upper chamber has 71 members, appointed by the Sultan from among prominent Omanis; it has only advisory powers.[48] The 84 members of the Consultative Council are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms, but the Sultan makes the final selections and can negotiate the election results.[48] The members are appointed for three-year terms, which may be renewed once.[46] The last elections were held on 15 October 2011.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said is the de facto prime minister and also controls the foreign affairs and defence portfolios.[49] The sultan has absolute power and issues laws by decree.[50] He is the longest-serving ruler in the Middle East.[47]

Legal system[edit]

The judiciary branch is subordinate to the sultan and the Ministry of Justice. Sharia (Islamic law) is the source of all legislation, and Sharia Court Departments within the civil court system are responsible for family-law matters, such as divorce and inheritance. In some rural areas, tribal laws and customs are frequently used to settle disputes.[50]

The Basic Statute of the State[51] is the cornerstone of the Omani legal system and it operates as a constitution for the country. The Basic Statute was issued in the year 1996 and thus far has only been amended once, in 2011,[52] as a response to protests.

The administration of justice is highly personalised, with limited due process protections, especially in political and security-related cases.[53] A 2012 report by Bertelsmann Stiftung declared that while "Oman's legal code theoretically protects civil liberties and personal freedoms, both are regularly ignored by the regime. Oman, therefore, cannot be considered free."[54]

Foreign policy[edit]

Since 1970, Oman has pursued a moderate foreign policy and expanded its diplomatic relations dramatically. Oman is among the very few Arab countries that have maintained friendly ties with Iran.[55][56] WikiLeaks disclosed US diplomatic cables which say that Oman helped free British sailors captured by Iran's navy in 2007.[57] The same cables also portray the Omani government as wishing to maintain cordial relations with Iran and as having continuously turned down US diplomats requesting Oman to take a sterner stance against Iran.[58][59][60]

Military[edit]

Oman's military manpower totalled 44,100 in 2006, including 25,000 men in the army, 4,200 sailors in the navy, and an air force with 4,100 personnel. The Royal Household maintained 5,000 Guards, 1,000 in Special Forces, 150 sailors in the Royal Yacht fleet, and 250 pilots and ground personnel in the Royal Flight squadrons. Oman also maintains a modestly sized paramilitary force of 4,400 men.[61]

The Royal Army of Oman had 25,000 active personnel in 2006, plus a small contingent of Royal Household troops. Despite a comparative large military spending, it has been relatively slow to modernize its forces. Oman has a relatively limited number of tanks, including 6 M60A1, 73 M60A3, and 38 Challenger 2 main battle tanks, as well as 37 aging Scorpion light tanks.[61]

The Royal Air Force of Oman has approximately 4,100 men, with only 36 combat aircraft and no armed helicopters. Combat aircraft include 20 aging Jaguars, 12 Hawk Mk 203s, 4 Hawk Mk 103s, and 12 PC-9 turboprop trainers with a limited combat capability. It has one squadron of 12 F-16C/D aircraft. Oman also has 4 A202-18 Bravos, and 8 MFI-17B Mushshaqs.[61]

The Royal Navy of Oman had 4,200 men in 2000, and is headquartered at Seeb. It has bases at Ahwi, Ghanam Island, Mussandam and Salalah. In 2006, Oman had 10 surface combat vessels. These included two 1,450-ton Qahir class corvettes, and 8 ocean-going patrol boats. The Omani Navy had one 2,500-ton Nasr al Bahr class LSL (240 troops, 7 tanks) with a helicopter deck. Oman also had at least four landing craft.[61] Oman ordered three Khareef-class corvettes from the VT Group for £400 million in 2007. They are being built at Portsmouth.[62]

In 2010 Oman spent US$4.074 billion on military expenditures, 8.5% of the gross domestic product.[63] The sultanate has a long history of association with the British military and defence industry.[64]

Administrative divisions[edit]

The Sultanate is administratively divided into eleven governorates. Governorates are, in turn, divided into 60 wilayats.[65][66]

Economy[edit]

Graphical depiction of Oman's product exports in 28 color-coded categories.

Oman's Basic Statute of the State expresses in Article 11 that the "national economy is based on justice and the principles of a free economy."[67]

Omani citizens enjoy good living standards, but the future is uncertain with Oman's limited oil reserves.[68] Other sources of income, agriculture and industry, are small in comparison and count for less than 1% of the country's exports, but diversification is seen as a priority in the government of Oman. Agriculture, often subsistence in its character, produces dates, limes, grains and vegetables, but with less than 1% of the country under cultivation Oman is likely to remain a net importer of food.

Since the slump in oil prices in 1998, Oman has made active plans to diversify its economy and is placing a greater emphasis on other areas of industry, such as tourism. Metkore Alloys is due to build a world-class 1,650,000-tonnes-per-annum capacity ferro-chrome smelter in Oman with an envisaged investment of $80 million.[69]

A free-trade agreement with the United States took effect 1 January 2009, eliminating tariff barriers on all consumer and industrial products, also providing strong protections for foreign businesses investing in Oman.[70] Tourism, another source of Oman's revenue, is on the rise.[71] A popular event is The Khareef Festival held in Salalah, Dhofar, which is 1,200 km from the capital city of Muscat, during the monsoon season (August) and is similar to Muscat Festival. During this latter event the mountains surrounding Salalah are popular with tourists as a result of the cool weather and lush greenery, rarely found anywhere else in Oman.[72]

Oman's foreign workers send an estimated US$30 billion annually to their Asian and African home states, more than half of them earning a monthly wage of less than US$400.[73] The largest foreign community is from the south Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka or come from Maharastra, Gujarat and the Punjab,[74] representing more than half of entire workforce in Oman. Salaries for overseas workers are known to be less than for Omani nationals, though still from two to five times higher than for the equivalent job in India.[73] The Oman Ferries Company maintains the two diesel-powered, high-speed, car ferries – Shinas and Hormouz. The ferries are used for travel between Muscat and Khasab. Khasab is strategically located in Musandam on the southern tip of the Strait of Hormuz and is controlled by Oman. Mainland Oman is separated by a small strip of UAE territory from Musandam.[75]

Oil and gas industries[edit]

Petrochemical tanks in Sohar.

Oman's proved reserves of petroleum total about 5.5 billion barrels, 25th largest in the world.[76] Oil is extracted and processed by Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), with proven oil reserves holding approximately steady, although oil production has been declining.[77][78] The Ministry of Oil and Gas is responsible for all oil and gas infrastructure and projects in Oman.[79]

Between 2000 and 2007, production fell by more than 26%, from 972,000 to 714,800 barrels per day.[80] Production has recovered to 816,000 barrels in 2009,[81] and 930,000 barrels per day in 2012.[80] Oman's natural gas reserves are estimated at 849.5 billion cubic meters, ranking 28th in the world, and production in 2008 was about 24 billion cubic meters per year.[82]

Demographics[edit]

According to the 2010 census, the total population was 2,773,479 and of those, 1,957,336 were Omanis.[4] The population has grown from 2,340,815 in the 2003 census.[4] The total fertility rate in 2011 was estimated at 3.70.[83] 43% of the population is under the age of 15.[84] About 50% of the population lives in Muscat and the Batinah coastal plain northwest of the capital; about 200,000 live in the Dhofar (southern) region, and about 30,000 live in the remote Musandam Peninsula on the Strait of Hormuz.

The country has a racially mixed native population, a legacy of its imperial past.[34] Many Omani people originate from the Swahili Coast and Baluchistan.[85] 600,000 foreigners live in Oman, most of whom are guest workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, and the Philippines.

Religion[edit]

About 75% of Oman is Muslim.[86] The Oman government does not keep statistics on religious affiliation, but most citizens are Muslims.[68] Around half of the population follows the Ibadi school of Islam,[47] which is distinct from the Sunni and Shia denominations and the only remaining expression of Kharijism, which was created as a result of one of the first schisms within the religion.[85] Historically, Ibadi has been Oman's dominant religious sect, and the Sultan is a member of the Ibadi community.

Non-Muslim religious communities include various groups of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Baha'is, and Christians. Christian communities are centered in the major urban areas of Muscat, Sohar, and Salalah and include Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and various Protestant congregations, organizing along linguistic and ethnic lines. More than 50 different Christian groups, fellowships, and assemblies are active in the Muscat metropolitan area, formed by migrant workers from Southeast Asia.

There are also communities of ethnic Indian Hindus and Christians. Muscat has two Hindu temples. One of them is over a hundred years old. There is also a significant Sikh community in Oman. Though there are no permanent gurudwaras, many smaller gurudwaras in makeshift camps exist and are recognised by the government. The Government of India had signed an accord in 2008 with the Omani government to build a permanent gurudwara but little progress has been made on the matter.[87]

Languages[edit]

Arabic is the official language of Oman.[67] Balochi is widely spoken.[88] Endangered languages in Oman include Bathari, Harsusi, Hobyot, Jibbali, Kumzari, Mehri.[89] Omani Sign Language is the language of the deaf community.

Although Arabic is Oman's official language, there are native speakers of different dialects, as well as Balochi (the language of the Baloch from Baluchistan western-Pakistan, eastern Iran, and southern Afghanistan) or offshoots of Southern Arabian, and some descendants of Sindhi sailors.[90] Also spoken in Oman are Semitic languages only distantly related to Arabic, but closely related to Semitic languages in Eritrea and Ethiopia. Swahili[7] and English are also widely spoken in the country due to the historical relations between Oman and Zanzibar. The dominant indigenous language is a dialect of Arabic and the country has also adopted Balochi as a second largest language. Almost all signs and writings appear in both Arabic and English.[71] A significant number also speak Urdu, due to the influx of Pakistani migrants during the late 1980s and the 1990s. Oman was the first Persian Gulf state to have German taught as second language.[91]

Largest cities[edit]

Culture[edit]

The traditional Dhow, an enduring symbol of Oman.[86]

Outwardly, Oman shares many of the cultural characteristics of its Arab neighbours, particularly those in the Gulf Cooperation Council.[85] Despite some superficial similarities, important factors make Oman unique in the Middle East.[85] These result as much from geography and history as from culture and economics.[85]

The relatively recent and artificial nature of the state in Oman make it difficult to describe a national culture.[85] Furthermore, sufficient cultural heterogeneity exists within its national boundaries to consider Oman differently from other Arab States of the Persian Gulf.[85] It is also claimed that Oman's cultural diversity is much greater than that of its Arab neighbours, given its historical expansion to the Swahili Coast and the Indian Ocean.[85]

Oman has traditionally engaged in shipbuilding, as ships have played a major role in the Omanis' ability to sail to stay in touch with the civilisations of the ancient world. Sur was one of the most famous cities in the Indian Ocean to manufacture ships. The Al Ghanja ship takes one whole year to build. Other types of Omani ship include As Sunbouq and Al Badan.[92]

Dress[edit]

The male national dress consists of the dishdasha, a simple, ankle-length, collarless gown with long sleeves.[93] Most frequently white in color, the dishdasha may also appear in a variety of other colors. Its main adornment, a tassel (furakha) sewn into the neckline, can be impregnated with perfume.[94] Underneath the dishdasha, men wear a plain, wide strip of cloth wrapped around the body from the waist down. The most noted regional differences in dishdasha designs are the style with which they are embroidered, which varies according to age group.[93] On formal occasions a black or beige cloak called a bisht may cover the dishdasha. The embroidery edging the cloak is often in silver or gold thread and it is intricate in detail.[94]

Omani men wear two types of head dress:

  1. the mussar, a square cut piece of woven wool or cotton fabric of a single colour, decorated with various embroidered patterns
  2. the kummah, a cap that is the head dress worn during leisure hours.[93]

Some men carry the assa, a stick, which can have practical uses or is simply used as an accessory during formal events. Omani men, on the whole, wear sandals on their feet.[94]

A khanjar, the traditional dagger of Oman (c. 1924).

The khanjar (dagger) forms part of the national dress and men wear the khanjar on all formal public occasions and festivals.[93] It is traditionally worn at the waist. Sheaths may vary from simple covers to ornate silver or gold-decorated pieces.[94] It is a symbol of a man's origin, his manhood and courage. A depiction of a khanjar appears on the national flag.[93]

Omani women wear eye-catching national costumes, with distinctive regional variations. All costumes incorporate vivid colours and vibrant embroidery and decorations. In the past, the choice of colours reflected a tribe's tradition. The Omani women's traditional costume comprises several garments: the dishdasha or kandoorah, which is a long tunic whose sleeves or radoon are adorned with hand-stitched embroidery of various designs. The dishdasha is worn over a pair of loose fitting trousers, tight at the ankles, known as a sirwal. Women also wear a head shawl most commonly referred to as the lihaf.[95]

As of 2014 women reserve wearing their traditional dress for special occasions, and instead wear a loose black cloak called abaya over their personal choice of clothing, whilst in some regions, particularly amongst the Bedouin, a face mask known as a burqa is still worn to this day.[95] Women wear hijab, and though some women cover their faces and hands, most do not. The Sultan has forbidden the covering of faces in public office.[86]

Popular culture[edit]

Music of Oman. In 1985, Sultan Qaboos founded the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra, an act attributed[by whom?] to his love for classical music. Instead of engaging foreign musicians, he decided to establish an orchestra made up of Omanis.[96] On 1 July 1987 at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel's Oman Auditorium the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra gave its inaugural concert.[97] There are over 130 different forms of traditional Omani songs and dances. The Oman Centre for Traditional Music was established in 1984 to preserve them.[98]

The cinema of Oman is very small, there being only one Omani film Al-Boom (2006) as of 2007.

Media[edit]

Sultanate of Oman Television began broadcasting for the first time from Muscat on 17 November 1974 and separately from Salalah on 25 November 1975. On 1 June 1979, the two stations at Muscat and Salalah linked by satellite to form a unified broadcasting service. In order to overcome the natural obstacles created by the mountainous terrain, a network of stations spread across the country in both populated and remote areas transmit Oman TV's broadcasts.[99]

Food[edit]

Omanis usually eat their main daily meal at midday, while the evening meal is lighter. During Ramadan, dinner is served after the Taraweeh prayers, sometimes as late as 11 pm. However these dinner timings differ according to each family - for instance some families would choose to eat right after maghrib prayers and have dessert after taraweh.

Arsia, a festival meal served during celebrations, consists of mashed rice and meat, (sometimes chicken). Another popular festival meal, shuwa, consists of meat cooked very slowly (sometimes for up to 2 days) in an underground clay-oven. The meat becomes extremely tender and it is infused with spices and herbs before cooking to give it a very distinct taste. Fish is often used in main dishes too, and the kingfish is a popular ingredient. Mashuai is a meal consisting of a whole spit-roasted kingfish served with lemon rice.

Rukhal bread is a thin, round bread originally baked over a fire made from palm leaves. It is eaten at any meal, typically served with Omani honey for breakfast or crumbled over curry for dinner. Chicken, fish and mutton are regularly used in dishes. The Omani halwa is a very popular sweet, basically consisting of cooked raw sugar with nuts. There are many different flavors, the most popular ones being the black halwa (original) and the saffron halwa. Halwa is considered as a symbol of Omani hospitality, and is traditionally served with coffee.[100]

As is the case with most Middle Eastern countries, alcohol is only available in some hotels and few restaurants.[86]

Sport[edit]

Oman hosted and won the 2009 Gulf Cup of Nations

The government aims to give young people a fully rounded education by providing activities and experience in the sporting, cultural, intellectual, social and scientific spheres, and to excel internationally in these areas. Therefore in October 2004 the government set up a Ministry of Sports Affairs to replace the General Organization for youth, sports and cultural affairs.

The 2009 Gulf Cup of Nations, the 19th edition, took place in Muscat, from 4 to 17 January 2009 and was won by the Omani national football team.

Ali Al-Habsi is an Omani professional association football player. As of 2014 he plays in the English Premier League as a goalkeeper for Wigan Athletic.[101]

The International Olympic Committee awarded[when?] the former GOYSCA its prestigious prize for Sporting excellence in recognition of its contributions to youth and sports and its efforts to promote the Olympic spirit and goals.

The Oman Olympic Committee played a major part in organizing the highly successful 2003 Olympic Days, which were of great benefit to the sports associations, clubs and young participants. The football association took part, along with the handball, basketball, rugby union, hockey, volleyball, athletics, swimming, and tennis associations. In 2010 Muscat hosted the 2010 Asian Beach Games.

Oman also hosts tennis tournaments in different age divisions each year. The Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex stadium contains a 50-meter swimming pool which is used for international tournaments from different schools in different countries. The Tour of Oman, a professional cycling 6-day stage race, takes place in February.

Oman hosted the Asian 2011 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup qualifiers, where 11 teams competed for three spots at the FIFA World Cup.

Oman hosted the Men's and Women's 2012 Beach Handball World Championships at the Millennium Resort in Mussanah, from 8 to 13 July.[102]

Oman is perhaps[original research?] the only Persian Gulf nation to have bullfighting events organised in its territories. Al-Batena area is prominent for such events. Wide audiences turn up to see the events unfold. Omani bullfighting is however not a violent event. The origins of bullfighting in Oman remain unknown, but many locals believe it was brought to Oman by the Moors of Spanish origin. Yet others say it has a direct connection with Portugal, which colonized the Omani coastline for nearly two centuries.[103]

Education[edit]

The adult literacy rate in 2010 was 86.9%.[104] Before 1970, only three formal schools existed in the whole country with fewer than 1000 students receiving education in them. Since Sultan Qaboos came to power in 1970, the government has given high priority to education to develop a domestic work force, which the government considers a vital factor in the country's economic and social progress. Today there are over 1000 state schools and about 650,000 students.

In 1986, Oman's first university, Sultan Qaboos University, opened. University of Nizwa is also one of the fastest growing universities in Oman. Other post-secondary institutions in Oman include Higher College of Technology and its six other colleges of technology, six colleges of applied sciences (including a teacher's training college), a college of banking and financial studies, an institute of Sharia sciences, and several nursing institutes. Some 200 scholarships are awarded each year for study abroad.

According to the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities, the top-ranking universities in the country are Sultan Qaboos University (1678th worldwide), the Dhofar University (6011th) and the University of Nizwa (6093rd).[105]

Health[edit]

Life expectancy at birth in Oman was estimated to be 76.1 years in 2010.[83] As of 2010, there were an estimated 2.1 physicians and 2.1 hospital beds per 1,000 people.[83] In 1993, 89% of the population had access to health care services. In 2000, 99% of the population had access to health care services.[citation needed] During the last three decades, the Oman health care system has demonstrated and reported great achievements in health care services and preventive and curative medicine. In 2001, Oman was ranked number 8 by the World Health Organization.[106]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In 1783, when Saiad Said succeeded to the "masnad" of Muscat and Oman (an independent state founded in 1749), he fell out with his brother Saiad Sultan, who fled to safety in Makran and entered into communication with Nasir Khan of Kalat. Saiad was granted the Kalat share of the revenues of Gwadar and lived there until 1797 when he achieved the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman.
  2. ^ Gwadar remained an Omani possession as part of the sultanate until September 1958

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External links[edit]